Tag Archives: chris richard

Bulls roster madness to begin with end of season

So what happens next?
The Bulls Tuesday in losing the opening round playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 concluded what generally was a successful season with a second straight 41-41 record and first round playoff elimination. Yes, even with another first round out. This was to be the appetizer.
But given injuries that cost Joakim Noah 18 games and parts of several others, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich missing another 20 combined—only Brad Miller, of all guys, and Taj Gibson played all 82 games—and the midseason trade of John Salmons, it was a positive to get to the playoffs and give the Cavs a scare, if not a seventh game.
This season with the loss of Ben Gordon as a free agent was aimed toward acquiring a free agent this summer. That process begins July 1, and the initial targets likely will be Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Carlos Boozer. The general belief is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the two elite free agents, will remain with their teams. But with Miami’s poor playoff performance around Wade and the possibility the Cavs could lose to the Celtics in the second round, their objectives could change. Free agency tends to be a financial and emotional process.
Though he was no where near the caliber, Trevor Ariza essentially took the same offer from the Rockets as he could have gotten from the Lakers because he was mad at them. The Heat doesn’t have near the players for a sign and trade the Bulls do, so if Miami comes up short, Wade could go shopping. Same with LeBron. It’s LeBron’s seventh season and if there’s no championship, maybe there’s a different itch he wants to scratch, that seven year itch.
And if Joe Johnson doesn’t have a rash the way the Hawks have fallen behind the no name Bucks 3-2 after Wednesday’s home loss, then maybe you have to wonder about him. Could he want to stay with that team under any circumstances if they lose to the Bucks?
Basically, everyone on the Bulls roster but Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is available. It’s not like the Bulls are looking to move Taj Gibson or Kirk Hinrich, for instance, but they’d like to use a player in trade and then perhaps money to sign a free agent.
There will be dozens of possibilities. I’ve previously mentioned trading for Golden State’s Monta Ellis and signing Lee. Neither is a first tier free agent, generally considered James and Wade, and then Bosh and Johnson—but the Bulls would love to find both a shooting guard and interior scorer.
Ellis likely will be available and the Warriors during the season made various attempts at acquiring Hinrich. The Jazz also has liked Hinrich and there’s some talk they might resign Boozer and trade Paul Millsap. The Timberwolves will be active, as they’ve promised, and given the rough relationship between Kevin Love and coach Kurt Rambis, Love probably could be gotten. The team, for now, seems to be asking way too much for Al Jefferson, namely an All-Star or someone like Noah.
There also will be other free agents who would come more cheaply, like Anthony Morrow, Brendan Haywood, Raja Bell, Steve Blake, Drew Gooden, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Juwan Howard, Roger Mason and Kyle Korver. Maybe you take a shot at a restricted free agent like Rudy Gay or Randy Foye.
And the Bulls finally will bring in 2008 draft pick Omer Asik. He is a seven-footer who has been injured the last two years with knee surgery and a broken collarbone but has ranked among the best shotblockers in Euroleagus history. The Bulls will get a good look at him at the World Championships in his native Turkey this summer. He is expected to be available to the Bulls for next season.
So there will be plenty of potential permutations before the Bulls have a roster for the 2010-11 season.
Here’s a look at what will happen with this group:
Derrick Rose: He’s the anchor of the team’s future as even LeBron James after Game 5 was calling Rose maybe the league’s best point guard. Deron Williams, by the way, objected, and said at shootaround Wednesday he was the best. Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. Rose has one more season before he can negotiate an extension, which will be at the maximum salary. He’s not available to anyone. He earned $5.2 million this season and will be under team option one more season, unless he adds an extension after the 2011-12 season.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Joakim Noah: He’s the other untouchable. The organization will not even listen to any sign and trade offers with the possible exception of LeBron James, and then only possibly because of James’ bum elbow. Noah earned $2.5 million this season and is eligible for an extension this summer. I assume he signs one as players will want to get in under the old rules as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season and long term deals are expected to be reduced. The Bulls can get free agents first, but that’s why they will spend their money this summer because they likely won’t have for beyond once Noah commits. They could make some short term deals to go into 2011 free agency, but with the labor uncertainty it’s not likely. So what’s Noah worth? He’s made himself a star player, though still as an eight figure earner will be one of the only NBA players who probably won’t make as much as his father, former tennis and now European music star Yannick Noah.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Luol Deng: After all the preseason uncertainty coming off his stress fracture, Deng had a good season, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 70 games. He makes $11.3 million next season and has a contract through 2013-14, the team’s longest now. He’ll likely be dangled in sign and trade talks as that will be a key in trying to attract someone like Bosh or Johnson. He has value around the league, but his contract length limits that with no one sure what will happen with the labor talks. And then the Bulls would need a small forward, so they won’t give him up easily.
Chance of returning: 75 percent.
Kirk Hinrich: He is fairly unflappable and sounded the most after Game 5 like he didn’t know if he’d be back. As Hinrich acknowledged, his name has come up in rumors for years. The reason is so many teams like what he brings and he has a descending contract that ends at $8 million in 2011-12, not much above the mid level for a guy who can play point guard and defend. With Joe Johnson and Rose, he’d give the Bulls likely the best guard rotation in the league. But it could cost the Bulls Hinrich in a sign and trade to get someone like Johnson. His name will come up in numerous scenarios starting at draft time, though the Bulls would like to have him back.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Taj Gibson: Along with Noah, he was the surprise of the season coming from the 26th pick in the draft to starting 70 games, second most to Rose. He made $1 million and was one of the league’s best bargains. He averaged nine points and 7.5 rebounds and with Noah made the Bulls one of the league’s best rebounding teams. He does have trouble against bigger players, but is a relentless worker. He’s got to improve his shooting and strength. If the Bulls can get Bosh, he’ll either be in a sign-and-trade or make up a heck of a front line with Noah. He gives the Bulls the option to explore fixing their shooting issues first because he can be a starting power forward, if not at an All-Star level.
Chance of returning: 70 percent.
James Johnson: The sixth player the Bulls have under contract for next season. He made $1.6 million this season, but barely played the first half and then sparingly as that was one of the key issues between management and coach Vinny Del Negro. He was a risk/reward draft pick, selected to make a hit or bust. He had a rocky start with punctuality issues and maturity, but has begun to come around. He’ll likely go to summer league, which can give him a chance to gain confidence. He probably would have been in the D-league at times if the team had more depth. The Bulls still want to give him a chance and feel he’ll virtually be a rookie again.
Chance of returning: 90 percent.
Brad Miller: He’s coming off a $90 million long term deal in which he made $12.25 million this season. Remarkably, he played all 82 games, albeit slowly. He really liked his teammates and bonds well with the support staff, though he was closest with Hinrich. Career wise his numbers are in decline at 34 as he shot a career low 43 percent and 28 percent on threes. He had some big games, but generally takes a few months to get back into condition. He’s a good backup center, though the Bulls won’t have much money after signing free agents and won’t get into a bidding fight for him. They’d probably give him a few million dollars for a year with a team option and would like to have him back. But at his age he remains a risk.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Hakim Warrick: He was acquired in the John Salmons deal and seemed like he’d be a good fit, but he quickly fell out of favor with Del Negro, who never quite found a role for him. He made $3 million this season and probably will look for something in that range or a bit less. It probably would be too much for the Bulls. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Bulls, but in just 19 minutes per game when he played and rarely in the playoffs. He’s not a physical player, but can score with a decent mid range jumper and is a good athlete.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Flip Murray: He came in the Tyrus Thomas deal and became a relatively trusted sixth man type as an instant scorer. He got more time than Warrick, but not consistently. He averaged 10.1 for the Bulls, but shot just under 40 percent and 31 percent on threes. The Bulls would like to him have back as he’s a pro shooter and scorer, if streaky. But teams like him as a bench player and he’ll probably command more than the Bulls feel is worth paying.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Jannero Pargo: He never gained the regular trust of Del Negro and, as a result, had a tough shooting season with erratic playing time, shooting just 27.5 percent on threes. He got the $1.9 million mid level exception this season. With a bit more discipline and accountability, I think he could be a better average shooter. He’s a popular locker room guy and if he’d take close to the veteran’s minimum might be worth another look.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Acie Law: He came with Murray in the Thomas deal and never got much chance to play, 12 games and one start and mostly DNP’s. He’s a clever ball handler who can get to the basket, but he’s determined to get a chance, which he’s never had in being shuttled around. He made $2.2 million on the end of his rookie deal as 11th pick in 2007. I talked to him and he says he can see the Bulls getting Johnson and with Rose and Hinrich there’d be no minutes again. He doesn’t fit with Rose since he’s a penetrator and is more a scoring point guard. If he gets a chance several teams may regret giving him up.
Chances of returning: 5 percent.
Joe Alexander: Came in the Salmons deal and is an unusually gifted athlete who dominates the one-one-one games in practices. When it gets to full court something seems to change. He’s a dedicated worker and one of those guys coaches don’t seem to know why he’s not better. He says it’s been injuries and the lack of a chance. He made $2.6 million as the eighth pick in 2008, but the Bucks passed on his team option. He’ll likely take a minimum deal and the Bulls will be looking for players who’ll take a minimum but have had experience.
Chance of returning: 50 percent.
Chris Richard: The power forward from Florida became a popular guy around the locker room, easy going and friendly. He can bang around and was back and forth on some 10 day deals. He could be an asset in some sign and trade possibilities and might get a shot with the summer league team.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Rob Kurz: Picked up late so the team could take a look at him for perhaps a minimum deal as one of those shooting, so called stretch four forwards who can play a guy like Antawn Jamison, if not quite in that class. Also could be in a sign and trade and likely summer league as well.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Devin Brown: Came for Aaron Gray and pretty much got forgotten about once the team added Murray. Never got a chance to shoot himself out of his poor start, which was a long way from starting with the Hornets and making about $1.2 million.
Chances of returning: Zero.

Bulls come up big and win in Toronto

It was clearly written for the Bulls on the board as soon as you walked into the locker room before Sunday’s potential playoff playin game with the Toronto Raptors.
“How bad do we want it?”
It might have needed an adverb, but the message was clear.
Joakim Noah got it, and everyone followed along for a 104-88 domination in which the Bulls led by double figures the entire second half and by 25 with seven minutes left, the Bulls best win in the season’s biggest game.
“I knew it was a really important game,” Noah was saying, his foot resting in a bucket of ice while the hot fever of the win resonated in a raucous locker room around him. “I was really focused. I wanted to go out there and impose my will as much as I could, be aggressive offensively and defensively. I wanted to make sure our team played harder than their team.”
Derrick Rose, who had a team high 26 points, seven assists and just one turnover, is the Bulls best player.
Noah is the MVP and leader.
Yes, finally, ponytail and all, the Bulls have a leader.
Need it, and he will come.
The Bulls now are 39-41, one game ahead of the Raptors for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and winners of eight of their last 12. That came after 10 consecutive losses with Noah out with plantar fasciitis.
“(Noah’s) a guy always energetic, always yelling, talking,” said Rose. “He’s giving all his energy when he’s out there and you want to do the same when you see him do that stuff.
“He was telling people (Sunday) there was no need to play around, on the layup line no bs-ing, making sure everyone goes hard,” said Rose. “In the locker room, on the bus. He was focused the whole time.”
And biggest of all, Noah took the Raptors’ heart away. And win the hearts of his teammates, who even were cheering for him as he came into the locker room after the game.
Yes, he’s a keeper.
The Raptors are down with Chris Bosh out for the rest of the regular season and Antoine Wright out.
“If you take Derrick Rose off their team and take out Joakim Noah, are they a playoff team?” whined Jarrett Jack. “Nothing against the others guys…”
Yes, in the end the Raptors had nothing.
Still, they were home and the crowd was engaged and energized.
This one could have gotten away quickly, and the Bulls aren’t exactly fast starters.
But Noah took command right away.
He dove on a pick and roll to open the Bulls scoring, hit Taj Gibson with a hi-low pass for a slam dunk, Gibson back from a mini slump and going hard to the glass, and rattled in a jumper, even calling for the ball.
“I’m playing with confidence and feel like being able to knock down a few jumpers keeps the defense honest and helps our team because hitting shots makes my driving opportunities better and I’m able to make plays for other people,” Noah said.
This was the guy a year ago who wouldn’t even look at the basket when he got the ball.
The Bulls broke from a 16-16 tie with a pair of Noah free throws, a Gibson jumper and then slam on another Noah pass, a 10-2 run that gave the Bulls a 28-23 lead after one.
Noah had six points, four rebounds and three assists and by halftime 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on the way to 18 points, 19 rebounds and a career high equaling seven assists.
Look that up in the phrase dictionary for “Coming up big.”
“I was really excited about the game,” Noah acknowledged. “My mom was here. She flew out. I did not even know she was coming. It was good to have her in the crowd.”
I’ve seen Noah’s mom, the former Miss Sweden, and she may be the most enthusiastic fan I’ve ever seen, and certainly a loyal mom. She cheers for everything Noah does, whether it’s a pass, a free throw, a rebound or retying his ponytail.
“I knew whoever won this game would have a better chance of making the playoffs,” said Noah. “It feels good we’re in that position right now. And we’ve just got to keep it up.”
With a burst out of the locker room after halftime with a 13-4 run as Rose began to exert his will, the home crowd began booing loudly and chanting slogans which suggested the Raptors were enjoying Popsicles.
You could see the Raptors giving up and Bosh perhaps watching somewhere thinking, “Chicago? New York? Miami?”
It was the season’s biggest game because the Bulls and Raptors were tied, but Toronto retains the tiebreaker. That means they still could make the playoffs over the Bulls. The Bulls magic number is now two, which means if the Bulls beat the Celtics Tuesday and Bobcats Wednesday or the Raptors lose to the Pistons Monday and Knicks Wednesday the Bulls are in. Or if each team splits. If the Raptors split and the Bulls lose both the Raptors are in. If the Bulls split and the Raptors win both, Toronto is in.
The odds finally favor the Bulls, but losses to the Bucks without Andrew Bogut and in New Jersey suggest nothing is sure with this Bulls team.
“I think we’ve been a team like this all season,” Noah said. “We can beat the best teams and lose to the worst teams. With us it’s a question of a mindset and coming ready to play. No denying, this was really an important game.
“What’s good is we have Boston coming up,” Noah went on, the first player reporters went to as the hoots and laugher were loud around him. “That’s an easy game to get up for. Playing in front of 2,000 in New Jersey is a little different situation. We understand what’s at stake. We (now) control our own destiny.”
Yes, there was plenty of noise as Noah spoke, but it was less the celebration of achievement than the character of this Bulls team, for good and bad.
They don’t get that upset, and maybe you’d like them to more after a loss. But this is who they are, and they did demonstrate they can get up for a big game.
“I try to keep the guys as focused as possible,” Noah said, the din rising. We’re a close group. It’s always like this in the locker room… when we win.”
Noah did pause a bit, and while there isn’t wild celebrating after a loss, there are no dirges playing, either.
After Sunday’s win, the players were chiding Rose, who was shyly blushing, over an inside joke they had going with the kid since practice Saturday. And it was egalitarian. Chris Richard chimed in loudly. Flip Murray, dour with outsiders, happily went around telling others what had happened. Stars and reserves are equal. Players dissolved into laugher. It usually isn’t that funny once you hear about it. But it is the camaraderie of guys on teams, and it’s been this way through ups and down with this group.
Though it also was something of a relief to have something tangible to enjoy.
Especially for Rose, who’d been laboring some under the weight of having to do so much and be so perfect while Noah recovered and worked his way up in minutes. Noah’s limitations were lifted after Friday’s loss in New Jersey, and Rose breathed a sigh of relief.
He’d committed seven turnovers in that game, and Sunday had just one, that coming with 4:19 left and the game long over with Patrick O’Bryant and Marcus Banks in the game for Toronto.
“It’s been crazy (the last few days) thinking about a lot of stuff,” said Rose. “Yesterday was great for me, away from home, not worried. I laid down and looked at TV all day. (I got that turnover) toward the end of the game. I was so mad. The ref told me he missed (the call, allowing a turnover). So as long as he knew, it was fine.”
Rose’s scoring was essential, really the one/two punch with Noah that made the difference. The defense still plays off Noah, so those jumpers are open. No one still believes that spinning tornado will do in.
Rose gets the defensive attention because he is the scorer and teams generally challenge anyone else on the Bulls to beat them.
The Bulls got a nice all around game with six players in double figures, including big contributions from Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick with 10 each off the bench.
The Bulls outrebounded Toronto 49-41 and had a nice 26 assists on 42 baskets and just 10 turnovers.
Rose had an agenda. He doesn’t usually come out shooting, but he was armed and ready Sunday and had an unusually high nine shots up in the first quarter.
“Attack,” said Rose of his game plan. “Play like it’s the last game. Go to the hole early. Some of my shots were going in and out, but I knew the majority would go in. I know if I attack the whole game, people get open and everyone else plays aggressive. The guys on me were closing out kind of sloppy, so I was taking it. Their big man were not stepping out on the elbow shots and I was taking them.”
Yes, the Raptors are an awful defensive team, scattered and uncommitted. Still, you have to make the shots and plays, and the Bulls did.
They got out on the break in the second quarter and Murray even showed off some with one of those Jordanesque switch hand layins. The Raptors did get within 47-44, but Rose hit a jumper, Noah beat his man downcourt again and pushed in a Murray miss, letting out a scream, and Warrick closed the half with a slam dunk on a great Luol Deng find as the Bulls pulled away to a 58-48 margin.
Then came that boomlet to open the third. The Raptors tried a zone, which always gets the Bulls shooting jumpers as they rarely adjust well. It was then Rose took over and, effectively, ended the game.
It was an appropriate, “Get out of my way” moment.
Down 73-54 and the crowd in unison apparently calling for Lou (Amundson), the Raptors got a pair of free throws and a three from Jose Calderon and were only trailing 74-63.
Enough of that, figured Rose.
He cupped the ball with his right hand and finished a tough drive for a score, the Raptors missed a three and getting Andrea Bargnani in a switch, Rose went left and up for another layup, shredding what serves as the Raptors interior. Rose then was fouled and made both free throws.
“They were better than us, obviously,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano.
And when Noah backed up and made a 17 footer, the Bulls were back ahead 84-65 after three quarters and the Bulls were thinking green thoughts with the Celtics next.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, who was hopping around and using so much English as every shot went up I think he got a call from Dancing with the Stars. “We’ve got to refocus and get our energy back for Tuesday. “Every game is a playoff game for us. This is one step in the right direction, but there still are a lot of things to handle. We’ve put ourselves in this situation. Now, we’ve got to handle it.”
They showed at least once they do want it. Badly.

Adding Kurz may give Bulls options, flexibility

So why did the Bulls waive Jerome James and sign Notre Dame’s Rob Kurz with four games left in the season and perhaps some more games for the playoffs?
I asked Vinny before Friday’s game whether it was a plan to fool the Nets and start Kurz and completely mess up the Nets scouting report on the Bulls.
We both then agreed that probably wasn’t the reason.
It’s not likely Kurz, a 6-9 shooting swing forward, will play for the Bulls the rest of the regular season. But there are two good reasons to make the signing now.
One is if the Bulls are able to sign a major free agent with their salary cap money they’ll have to sign several minimum salaried players and this is a chance to get a look at Kurz and involve him in the team’s system and have him on their summer league team.
Perhaps more significantly, you need players in the eventuality of a potential sign and trade deal for a major free agent whom you can sign for a year at a minimum salary and trade. Adding Kurz thus gives the Bulls another player like that along with the likes of, say, Chris Richard, to give the team better flexibility given the various scenarios that could occur this summer. A team would be unlikely to take on James in a similar circumstance.
Plus, Kurz is represented by Mark Bartelstein, one of the major free agents of top free agents, like David Lee, and it’s always good to continue relations with those top agents as they often like to have multiple clients on the same team.
“I understand they’re in a playoff race and hopefully we’ll make the payoffs and have a run and I can help the team anyway I can whether in a game or practice,” said Kurz, who played for former DePaul coach Joey Meyer in the D-league in Ft. Wayne. “Going forward I feel I can help an NBA team and hopefully show the Bulls I can be part of the team.
“I’m obviously a three point shooter,” said Kurz, “and with Derrick (Rose) and their scorers I can space the floor with my shooting. The best thing I do is take other power forwards away from the basket. There are a lot of stretch fours around the league and I feel I can be of value to any offense.
“It’s a good opportunity for me and hopefully in the summer they can see my work ethic and how I work every day and they’ll want me around,” said Kurz, who played briefly in Ft. Wayne with fellow new Bull Joe Alexander. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to join an organization like this.”
Kurz said he worked out last week for the Celtics before signing with the Bulls.
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “He just got here. We don’t have time to practice. The front office liked what he was doing and we’ll have him on our summer league team and go from there.”

Bulls cannot rise like a phoenix against Suns

What’s that I’m seeing in the distance, very hazy, faint, just really a speck now?
Yes, that’s it. The Bulls’ playoff hopes.
The Bulls Tuesday suffered a brutal, perhaps playoff fatal 111-105 loss at the United Center to the Phoenix Suns as Steve Nash carved up the Bulls down the stretch, and though the Bulls again were victimized by injury with Kirk Hinrich going out with an ankle sprain, the season long lack of a structured offense and limited use of the depth proved lethal.
“They hit big shots and made big plays and there was nothing we could do about it,” indicted Derrick Rose, who tried valiantly and in vain to save the Bulls down the stretch. “We’re still trying to make a push for the playoffs. But as I said, they executed their plays and that’s why they won.”
It was a terrific, entertaining, playoff like game, and a Suns clinic in late game offense as the Suns won their eighth straight to go to 48-26 and clinch a playoff spot. Playoffs! The Bulls are on the verge of forgetting about them as they fell to 35-39 and one and one half games behind Toronto for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with Toronto having the tiebreaker. And now the Raptors Wednesday host the Clippers, who after being blown out by the Bucks are playing the second in a back to back on the road without injured Baron Davis.
The Bulls probably have to just about win out now to make the playoffs, perhaps with enough room to lose a game or two at the most and playing five teams with winning records not counting the Raptors on the road. And this from a team that has lost 12 of its last 16. Joakim Noah played 27 minutes and had his first double/double since Jan 29. But Hinrich went out in the first half and didn’t return and Luol Deng remained out, but is expected to return for limited play this weekend. It could be too late.
“We have not been able to get over the hump against some of the better teams,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Give Phoenix credit. They executed when they had to. That is why they have been so successful over the years and lately this year. Players have to make plays down the stretch. We ran some good sets but were unable to convert. We had some turnovers early, but we controlled the turnovers over the last three quarters. It just comes down to getting some stops. Thirty points is too many in the fourth quarter. We did some positive things, we just came up a little short.”
Not good enough this time of year.
But what stood out as the Suns scored in their last six possessions and nine of their last 11 to overcome a four-point Bulls lead with 4:50 left was the way the Suns had something to go to, the old basketball cliché about having something to hang your hat on.
It was Nash not only with 22 points and 10 assists and nine points and four assists in the fourth. But it was what they had going with Nash.
The Suns went to pick and roll with Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, getting Stoudemire rolling or a pick and pop with Channing Frye popping out. Frye had with the big three pointer with 41.6 seconds left coming off a nice down screen to break a 103 tie as the Suns blazed with 14 of 28 threes. The Bulls’ defense collapses into a shell, thus leaving the perimeter generally open.
There was Nash getting mismatches in that screen/roll, Jason Richardson posting against the smaller guards, usually Rose with Jannero Pargo basically having no shot against Nash, and then Nash, as slow as he seems, driving by Pargo for, effectively, the clinching basket and 108-105 lead with 23.2 seconds left as Flip Murray had to come and help, leaving Grant Hill open for the pass and two handed flush.
“I was taking so many meds for my back and cold that I actually felt a little loopy,” laughed Nash. “It helped my back but I was a little dizzy out there. At the end of the game, I just tried to hang in. We had a chance to win and I was fortunate to make some plays when it counted.”
Rose had 23 points and 10 assists to basically offset Nash, but the problem was when the Bulls needed plays down the stretch it was Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose.
They had nothing else going, little movement, no other actions as Rose made some amazing moves and drives as he was the only Bull to score after Brad Miller’s three for that 97-93 lead with 4:50 left.
You can’t ask Rose to do everything, even with the injuries, and then after Hill’s slam, though the Bulls were coming out of a tiemout trailing 108-105 with 23.2 seconds left, they clearly went looking for a three to tie instead of extending the game. Rose missed a wild, quick, forced shot with Hill all over him.
“I felt like I should take it,” Rose said. “I had to adjust.”
The Bulls had plenty of time there to attack the basket and extend the game. Granted, the Suns are terrific down the stretch and great free throw shooters. But you can’t give up like that and go for the quick tie and then give them that much time even if you make it.
Obviously, the Bulls missed Hinrich, who sprained his ankle stepping on Noah’s foot late in the second quarter and couldn’t return. “I think Hinrich is the best on-ball defender in the NBA at his position. That was another injury that hurt them as well,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
Hinrich plays Nash probably as well as you can play him, so perhaps Nash doesn’t make every play down the stretch like he did. But what choice did the Bulls have now as they rarely used Devin Brown, a more physical defender, and Acie Law. So when Hinrich couldn’t return, they were pretty much stuck with Pargo, who was five of 15 and zero for four in the fourth quarter.
While Flip Murray was having another huge game with 23 points and nine rebounds and hitting four three pointers. Yet, with Pargo even playing some point in the fourth with Rose, inexplicably, off the ball, Murray was three of five shooting in the fourth quarter. But he didn’t get a shot in the last six minutes after his goaltending score gave the Bulls a 94-91 lead. Again, the Bulls failed to recognize or go to the hot guy while Pargo missed four jumpers in that stretch when Murray never got a shot.
So it was a brutal, disappointing way to conclude a basically well played and good effort by the Bulls, who didn’t quit and aren’t laying down. They had an impressive 26 assists on 36 field goals and a 20-7 edge in fast break points. They were diving for loose balls and delivering hard fouls. The bench was terrific, especially in the second quarter when the Bulls recovered from Stoudemire and Richardson dominating the first quarter for a 36-25 lead.
Stoudemire didn’t so much afterward and ended with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Richardson led the Suns with 27 points. Though Stoudemire, another of the potential big free agents this summer, did get James Johnson for one of those uh oh poster slams early in the game.
Murray in the second quarter exploded for 14 points in hitting a trio of three pointers and a 60 foot hook that swished just after the halftime buzzer. And Noah was his old explosive, hustling self running himself into back to back dunks to open the quarter and beating Stoudemire down the court repeatedly. I don’t know Noah’s pain, but for the Bulls to have any playoff chance at al, he’s got to be back in the starting lineup Friday when the Bulls travel to Washington.
The Bulls got ahead 60-57 at halftime when Noah just before the half got a costly technical for questioning a Chris Richard flagrant foul just before the half. But the Bulls fought off the Suns throughout the third and took a three point lead into the fourth quarter and quickly made it six on a Murray three.
“It was a tough loss tonight,” said Noah, whose energy, as usual, has been contagious. “We had our chances. I thought we played with good energy. It’s just a really tough loss especially when late in the game you have chances to win.”
The Bulls had them against a Suns team currently fourth in the tough Western Conference and playing as well as anyone the last two months.
“We’re a totally different team (from the team the Bulls beat in Phoenix in January),” said Richardson. “Two months ago, we were a team that had big leads that we’d end up giving back. We weren’t focused on the defensive end. This half of the season now we’re really focused on the defensive end and helping each other out. The way we’re playing now is huge. We’re going to need to play like this in the playoffs. With the game on the line you have to come up with stops to get wins.”
Yes, that’s the Suns talking defense and making at least enough plays down the stretch, though they couldn’t really handle Rose, at least at the end. The Suns made a nice defensive switch to have Hill on Rose much of the mid part of the game, giving Rose some trouble with size. Rose would beat Hill late, but the move seemed to make him less aggressive. Thus the Suns were able to rest Nash for the close as he moved to defending Johnson, who did little on offense and committed a crucial late turnover when he eschewed a wide open look and passed the ball out of bounds as everyone expected the shot. He got yanked after that.
The Suns finally wrestled the lead away from the Bulls, their first fourth quarter lead after opening the period trailing 84-81, on a Richardson three with 3:01 left. It came after the Suns drew Noah out on a Frye three and Richardson got the offensive rebound. Simple basketball. The Suns keep bodies moving and moving the defense.
Rose then put on the after burners and got into the lane for a seven-foot fallaway to answer.
Richardson went into the post, where he’d been basically abusing the much smaller Rose. But he missed. Rose then got caught between a floater and a jumper and pushed it long. Nash then hit a nice fading shot over Pargo for a 100-99 Suns with 1:54 lead.
The Bulls almost blew the next possession with Miller throwing an inventive behind the back pass inside that went off the Suns. But Miller was hustling. Should Taj Gibson, who had 14 and 10, been in there with the Suns playing smaller with Frye? He did get back in with under a minute left, but couldn’t get out to Frye in time for that big three.
Pargo missed a jumper after the Bulls got the ball back on that Miller pass, but Miller got the rebound and got it to Rose who was fouled on a drive and made both. Nash then got Miller on a switch running that pick and roll, which would be the call for Taj. Nash went by Miller on a crossover and laid the ball up left handed and was fouled for a 103-101 lead. Rose came right back, and you can’t say he’s not getting the calls as he forced contact at the basket at Stoudemire and got two free throws, making both to tie it at 103 with 59.8 second left.
Frye then came up on top as Nash drew Noah on the switch and passed back to Frye as the defense began to collapse to avoid another Nash drive.
“Steve Nash dribbled around and they tried to get Frye to pop out,” explained Del Negro. “He has good range. They keep setting screens for Steve to create. If you rotate to Frye, they dump into Amar’e in single coverage. They spread you out in a triangle, which is tough. They have other guys who can spread it out. They open up the lane for Amar’e and if you double down, they make you pay.”
The Bulls paid as Frye hit the three for the 106-103 lead.
Rose made an amazingly tough drive past Hill lurching at the basket and scoring to get the Bulls within 106-105 with 37.7 seconds left.
But then Nash beat them again with that pass off to Hill, and then cam that forced, quick Rose three and the end of the game, if not the season.

Bulls lose to Heat

I was reminded of the classic comedy movie “Airplane” Thursday while watching the Bulls joke they called a big game Thursday in losing 103-74 to the Miami Heat.
It was as bad an effort and as poor a game as any Bulls team has played in three decades. See, it was something special, as advertised. The Bulls trailed at halftime by 30 points for the first time since 1980, the equivalent of a franchise in deep trouble and headed for disaster.
That was the theme of the famous 1980’s comedy that had the frantic controller played by Lloyd Bridges walking through scenes with the airplane headed for disaster, offering,
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”
The Bulls certainly picked the wrong week for a game like this.
It was a special, national TV game on TNT with the famous studio crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson calling the game from the United Center. It being a TNT night, there were few other games in the NBA, meaning most players were watching, sort of the Monday Night football of the NBA.
And certainly watching were the elite free agents as the Bulls and Heat are two of the principal franchises, along with the Knicks, representing major media markets trying to recruit the top talent to sign as a free agent this summer.
It was like a coach going on a college recruiting visit for a top prospect with dirty, sweat stained clothes, bad breath, three day stubble and a severe case of gas.
It was uglier than that. It smelled about the same.
“I think they played very well and we played terrible,” Joakim Noah offered most simply. “We didn’t play with a lot of energy. Our help defense was pretty bad. Every aspect of the game we played really bad. This was a big game, obviously,
and we didn’t compete very well.”
It was so much worse than the score suggests or anyone could say.
The TNT crew spent a good deal of time making jokes about the Bulls, like Barkley who opened the fourth quarter saying he wished they were back in the Atlanta studio… so they could watch something else. Smith noted the “Los Bulls” uniforms and called the Bulls “muy terrible.”
Johnson, the sympathetic one, kept sighing and seemingly looking away, like a parent watching a child botch every play in a Little League game.
“I thought they were more physical and quicker to the ball,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We did not respond well with our defensive intensity. Our rotations were slow and we were not physical enough. They dictated the tempo, we just did not shoot the ball well. They kept attacking us and (Michael) Beasley and (Jermaine) O’Neal hit shots for them. Obviously this one was big. We had good practices and I thought we were well prepared. It was just one of those nights, bad timing. It was a key opportunity for us and we did not take advantage of it. We had no answers to what they were doing.”
For the record, the Bulls fell to 33-38, the identical record they had at this point last season when they went on to finish seventh in the East. So mathematically… However, I don’t recall any losses like this late last season.
The Bulls are two and a half games behind the Toronto Raptors and without the tiebreaker for the last playoff spot. Making it seem unlikely, though Toronto has played poorly the last several weeks as well. Though not quite matching the Bulls losing 11 of 13. So it remains possible, though few teams in league history have played as poorly as the Bulls did Thursday in losing like that at home.
Playoff race. Big TV game. Where’s the competitive spirit? Where’s the fight? Where’s the pride. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Bulls actually led early, 10-8 as Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, who each ended with 12 and Gibson also with 10 rebounds as one of the few who kept trying, each scored four. But the Bulls went cold on the way to 32.9 percent shooting and perhaps a symbol of what was to come was James Johnson with the score tied at 10 pulling up on a one-against-three to shoot a 20 footer.
It was every one for himself, and the season is as good as over if they’ve decided they’re going to get theirs for whatever reason.
And Vinny was no help, either, as the Heat were prepared for what the Bulls would do and the Bulls failed to counter just about anything.
The Bulls generally blitz the pick and roll, which sends the man who covers the screener at the ball handler in a double team. But it was a lazy double. So the Heat had the screener slip and dive to the basket, where there is supposed to be weak side help. Only there was none.
“Our weak side defense was not active,” said Del Negro. “We need to translate what we do in practice in the game. We were a step slow all night. They got a lot of points in the paint in the first half. We did not rotate quick enough and we did not make them take enough jump shots.”
Of course, Del Negro didn’t react, either and one after another the Bulls played the same defense and Miami beat it every time.
Dwyane Wade ended the game with just 12 points and 10 assists, six in the first quarter and nine in the first half as the Bulls constantly doubled and trapped Wade and he found cutter after cutter for easy layups as the Heat punished the Bulls 52-28 in the paint, 36-10 in the ugly first half.
Then when Miller got a second foul early, Del Negro had to hold off on Noah given his time limitation for plantar fasciitis. Though the way it’s going you may as well play him regular minutes. Or forget playoffs because with Luol Deng still out and by the time Noah getting in the game being maybe out of hand, you’re going to be able to get a lot of rest for the summer pretty soon.
Del Negro went with guard Flip Murray at small forward, it being little surprise after Johnson began to shoot himself to the bench with that one-on-three jumper. So the Heat sent Quentin Richardson repeatedly into the post against the smaller Murray and scored three times before the Bulls went with Hakim Warrick. Warrick ended as the high scorer with 14, though 12 in the fourth quarter when Barkley was hoping to watch 30 Rock.
He probably wanted to laugh at something else.
It was 31-19 after the first quarter and 63-33 at halftime. Though that was one good thing as you couldn’t say you can wait around for an NBA game until the last five minutes. This was over long, long before that as the “bunch of Tito Jacksons,” as Barkley derisively calls the Miami role players, dominated the Bulls.
The Heat was up by 24 late in the second quarter despite Wade held to four points and Beasley scoreless.
Yes, old, broken down Jermaine O’Neal dominated the Bulls again for 24 points. Carlos Arroyo outgunned Rose. Joel Anthony had five blocks. Udonis Haslem outscored Wade.
What, you couldn’t beat those guys?
This was supposed to be a Bulls showcase for Wade to return to Chicago as a free agent. Failing that, it, at least, was a face off for the benefit of Chris Bosh, regarded as the most likely top free agent to leave his current team. Play with Wade and the Heat or the Bulls? So which team would give you a better chance for a championship?
I doubt any decision will be based on one game. But it was a chance for the Bulls to help build a case, though perhaps all the guys who won’t be here didn’t think that was so important.
You would think having maintained their core with Rose, Noah, Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls would be attractive. And certainly they still are given Noah’s limited play and Deng out with injury. Still, it gives you pause when everyone gives up like they did Thursday when things go badly.
And it had the promise of something special, not only with the TNT game and studio crew and the free agency ramifications. The Bulls and Heat played a spirited, angry game in Miami earlier this month that included flagrants and an ejection, charges of dirty play and warnings of things not being forgotten.
Instead, the Bulls surrendered quickly and meekly, outgunned and out thought by the Heat.
“The last game was a little chippy, but we put that aside,” said Wade. “My game plan going out there was to get my teammates involved. I knew they would have two guys coming at me. That let me get my teammates involved early. Everyone played unselfish and we passed the ball well.”
Wade acknowledged he hasn’t played well against the Bulls and Hinrich and said he thought about it a lot and said he just was too anxious being back in his hometown, that he needed to slow the game more, especially because the Heat like to control the pace and play aggressive half court defense.
So Wade, as the cliché goes, let the game come to him, and he took it and passed it right by the Bulls as they gazed stupefied.
Everyone took his turn looking foolish and lost.
Rose dribbled the ball out of bounds on one occasion without much pressure. Hinrich in the Bulls last possession of the first half froze on a shot and passed to himself for a turnover. Jannero Pargo looked great dribbling into a shot and then hit the bottom of the backboard a few feet from the rim. Chris Richard back rimmed an open slam dunk and the Bulls lost the ball out of bounds. Rose got at least three shots blocked. Hinrich stepped out of bounds on a fast break. It was just brutal.
TNT cancelled its third quarter interview with Del Negro because the Bulls were losing by 20. The league doesn’t mandate coach interviews in such a losing situation.
Who knew? There’s a slaughter rule in the NBA. And they used it to save the Bulls further embarrassment.
Nets Saturday. Pistons Sunday. That should tell us all we need to know about whether this was the wrong week to put your faith in the Bulls. It’s the wrong week to quit playing. So let’s see what this group is all about.

LeBron came and he conquered the Bulls

Veni, vidi, vici.
Yup, same old LeBron James.
He came to Chicago, he saw a city he liked, as he would concede afterward to reporters, and he conquered a Bulls team once again without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, though this time by a more pedestrian 92-85.
Hail, LeBron, which a sellout crowd of Bulls fans mostly did as James had 29 points, 13 in the fourth, when he won the game after the Bulls led by two with six minutes left. He also had 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks, converting 11 of 12 free throws.
The guy is really good, though we’re not sure yet whether good enough that they’ll name a salad after him as they did with Caesar.
Though I’m sure he can get a deep dish pizza named after him if he decides to leave the Cavs as a free agent after this season and come to Chicago.
“I am well respected here,” James acknowledged. “They like their basketball here and the way I play.  For these fans to see what they’ve seen, going back to 1984, when Jordan was doing what he was doing all the way to 1998, they’ve seen the top of the tier. It is very humbling for me for them to respect my game as well. Chicago is a great city and one of the best in America. From lifestyle to sports town it’s a great city. I know that. You (media) guys know that. Everyone knows that.”
OK, but tell everyone something we don’t know, like what you’ll do after the season.
It’s the biggest question of the NBA season, much more so than who will win the NBA title or when the Nets will win again.
I believe he’s staying in Cleveland, especially with the Cavs rolling like they are with a 55-15 record and playing just parts of games to win, like they did with the Bulls Friday. James scored his 15,000th point during the game, making him the youngest player ever to 15,000 points after he also was to 5,000 and 10.000. Just another young king, eh?
James had quite a time of it Friday, mostly floating through the early parts of the game before he turned it on with the Bulls leading 78-76 with about six minutes left behind Taj Gibson with 20 points and 13 rebounds and James Johnson, guarding James, or at least as much as James would allow him, with 16 points and eight rebounds.
James then hit a 22 footer to tie the game at 78, and after the Bulls came out of a timeout with Flip Murray missing a bad, long jumper, James hit another long jumper for an 80-78 lead with 4:48 left. Johnson, who did some terrific things but has to lead the league in turnovers in the last six minutes, palmed the ball as he got caught up in going at James. Not a great idea, but Johnson is showing that athletic potential many saw in him in the draft.
James drew a double and hit Anthony Parker for a three. Gibson answered with a followup slam dunk on a Kirk Hinrich miss, and then James lined up Johnson from the far left wing right in front of the Bulls bench.
James, as he does too often, stops the ball and all his teammates, which makes the Cavs most vulnerable, and faked move after move against Johnson. It pretty much rendered Antawn Jamison useless Friday as he relies on cutting and movement for his scores. Mo Williams shot well and added 18 standing around waiting for James passes when doubled.
Johnson stood in defensive position, mostly isolated with the Bulls coaches up yelling for defenders to help behind. Bulls players on the bench began to yell at James to shoot.
James isn’t a big talker on the floor, certainly not like Kevin Garnett, but he does engage in playful banter, sometimes between his dance steps, which were limited Friday as James was out late Thursday night at a Jay-Z show. That’s his rapper friend better known as Beyonce’s husband.
“Whoever was telling me to shoot it,” James said about the taunting Bulls bench led by Noah and Jannero Pargo. “You want me to shoot it? Shoot the ball? I said, ‘OK, I’ll shoot the ball.'”
James blew by Johnson and was fouled at the rim by Gibson, making both for an 85-80 lead with 2:56 left.
Johnson then, again, committed a turnover, traveling. He pointed toward himself, which I hate. Yes, we know who was at fault. This isn’t Tiger Woods or John Edwards. You don’t have to ask for forgiveness in public. It happens in games all the time, but so often down the stretch? Your fault? Yes, we know.
James then made a hard curl down the lane beating Johnson easily, scoring and getting fouled by Brad Miller for a three-point play and 88-80 Cavs lead with 2:28 left.
“I’m feeling confident knowing what I can do to close games out,” said James. “I never get rattled or shaken, no matter down one, up two, whatever the case may be.”
As good as the Bulls played throughout without their regulars, they again couldn’t do anything with their sub squad when the opponent got interested. Flip Murray drove and was blocked and Gibson picked up the ball and got hammered with no call, James retrieving the ball. He missed twice around an Anderson Varejao rebound, but Murray, five of 17, missed again. James got the rebound, came up slowly again and fired in a long bank shot from the wing to effectively end the game with a 90-80 lead with less than a minute left.
“I was born with a God-given gift,” said James. “I take full advantage of it by being able to do what I do on the basketball court. Hopefully, I can continue to stay healthy, and hopefully, I’ll continue to break records.”
And surely this summer break hearts somewhere.
James can infuriate you if you are an opponent with some of his dancing and celebratory antics. The last time the teams played, Joakim Noah was annoyed and had a little faceoff with James. But you’ve got to admire someone who brings that much joy to work.
I’m not saying he didn’t take the Bulls seriously—OK, maybe I am—but it was amusing to watch him on the bench in the first half. He had some sort of game going with headbands with reserve Jamario Moon, who didn’t play. There always seems something amusing being said as Jamison, one of the more responsible veterans in the NBA, kept laughing.
When it was approaching time to come back in the game, James leaped off the bench and patted his behind like you would see someone do with a horse when they holler “giddy yap!”
Later in the game, in the fourth quarter when the Bulls got a nice open court steal from Murray and dunk and took the lead  on a strong move from Hakim Warrick and three point play after being set up by Acie Law, James just seemed to stand up and head for the scorers’ table to check in as coach Mike Brown still watched he action.
There was 7:23 left in the fourth and James hadn’t played yet, so it probably was time, anyway. James had 13 of the next 16 Cavs’ points as the Cavs outscored the Bulls once James returned to the game 18-7 before a meaningless three by Murray with two seconds left.
James has been coy all season about his free agency plans, basically cutting off conversation after the first few weeks. So I asked him why given how well the Cavs are playing, how many good deals they’ve made getting Jamison most recently and how much he seems to be enjoying himself why he just doesn’t declare his intentions to stay.
James declined, leaving the slightest window opening for everyone.
“It’s still a business,” James said. “I’m in a business. This isn’t high school basketball anymore. You have to do what’s best for your family and do what’s best for yourself. I’ve always said I love being in Cleveland. But to me as a basketball player, no matter what happens I love to play the game of basketball. I love to play it for the fun, the joy. I love my teammates. I love the guys here and that’s just the way I approach the game.” James, as I said, was complimentary of Chicago and also was positive about the Bulls players, which management believes is perhaps its major selling point to free agents.
“Derrick Rose was a first time All-Star. He’s an unbelievable talent,” said James. “Unfortunately, he has a wrist injury (Rose said he’ll likely play Saturday in Philadelphia along with Noah). Taj Gibson is a bright spot. Joakim Noah is a bright spot. They’ve got Luol Deng. They have a lot of great players.”
James has studied well from many of his star predecessors and tends to be very engaging after games. He used to speak with reporters before every game, but has mostly stopped doing that. As someone around the Cavs joked, “He’s got the MVP locked up now.”
But James is very aware of what goes on around the NBA and in talking with him after the game in a large group of Chicago reporters, he showed an unusual knowledge of the Bulls season.
“When they were all healthy they were playing great,” James said about the Bulls. “I remember the West Coast trip they had. They had an unbelievable West Coast trip when they were healthy. Having four guys out of the starting lineup, I don’t think you can recover from that.”
Who follows Bulls road trip from two months ago?
Does it mean James is watching the Bulls closely regarding free agency?
Perhaps, though he wouldn’t bite when one of the local TV guys not often at the games—James brings out the stars—asked James if he thought the Bulls were one star away from winning a title. James asked him what he thought.
James is quite the show, much like all the great ones, and he brought out what little celebrity we have here with Olympian Shani Davis, Chicago Bear Julius Peppers and actor/writer Harold Ramis, whom I recall was in Ghostbusters, among other high brow epics, where the version of Caesar’s famous short war description, “I came, I saw…” was offered with, “We came, we saw, we kicked (butt).”
It was no kicking this time as the Bulls didn’t fall behind by 25 like in Memphis and Dallas, and might have stolen one instead of losing their 10th straight and falling to 31-37 if they could have made some jumpers.
Beware the Ides of March?
Heck, beware all of March as the Bulls haven’t won yet this month.
Murray, Hinrich and Pargo were a combined 13 for 44 and two of 16 on threes, and the Bulls really didn’t have a chance with that.
The Bulls defense was sharper, they moved the ball better and broke that streak of giving up at least 100 points in 12 straight games.
“It is frustrating,” repeated Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.  “Our guys battled.  Taj was solid and we got some good performances.  We just did not make enough shots.  In the first half, we had some fast break opportunities but we were just a little bit out of control.  At the end of the game we were not able to knock some shots down and we had some turnovers.  They put pressure on you with LeBron at the elbow.  You have to double if he gets it going and you have to make someone else beat you.  That’s when they hit the three or somebody is on the glass.”
The Bulls were outrebounded 53-41, no surprise lately without Noah, though they had about half as many turnovers and 20 assists to 16 for the Cavs. The Bulls also had a large margin on points in the paint.
It probably was a game to give Acie Law more time, and not only because he averaged 20 points the last two games on 13 of 19 shooting, especially with Pargo and Murray firing blanks.
I’m not a huge fan of the plus/minus stat in basketball. But the Bulls made the best run late with Law, Chris Richard and Hakim Warrick in the game in the fourth, and Law was the only Bull in the game to finish with a plus/minus higher than zero. He was plus-3 and the next best were Johnson and Warrick both minus-1.
Also, I wanted to see more of Joe Alexander, who came in late in the first quarter to go against James. He stripped James of the ball for one of James’ five turnovers leading to a Law runout for free throws, and never got back in after his 24-second stint, one of the best ever, at least on defense.
Del Negro is just trying things now, so it’s easy to second guess when guys don’t make shots. But you could see Murray and Pargo weren’t going to get it back on this night.
But we’ll start to see less of them now with both Rose and Noah saying after the game they’ll play Saturday in Philadelphia. They were also planning a late arrival as the team’s plane broke down and with so many college games going on there wasn’t another charter to find. The players usually dress quickly before a road game on a back to back, but were lingering as the takeoff time was announced at 1 a.m., hopefully. It would be an early morning arrival.
“I’ve got to play through it,” said Rose. “Basically be a right handed player. I’ll fight through it. It’s going to feel weird, but I’ll make the adjustment. I think I’ll do fine. I’m mad I missed this big game, but hopefully we can get the eight (playoff) spot and play them every game.
“We’re getting closer (to winning),” said Rose. “We’re fighting back. Now we’ve got to find a way to win these games.”
Noah said he was given a choice in the back to back by team doctors of playing one of two and he chose the 76ers’ game, which starts a run of games in which the Bulls, theoretically, have better odds of winning.
The Bulls looked like they had a surprising chance Friday as Gibson came out strong, and the only problem was teammates taking long jumpers even at times he had big advantages in the post, especially against Leon Powe, who was dragging his leg returning from injury.
Gibson, who also has a severe case of plantar fasciitis, has been a revelation the way he continues to compete.
“It’s inflamed,” acknowledged Gibson. “The doctor said some players play with it. He said (I’m) playing a lot of minutes and playing where the team looks to (me). So I’m just going to have to fight through it. He said with the ice and treatment so far it’s been doing well. Don’t worry. I’m not going to sit out. If it tears, that’s a positive because I’ll never have it again.
“They said after the season I’ll probably get rid of it,” said Gibson. “It takes time. They told me some guys can deal with it and (I’ve) been dealing with it and fighting through it and I don’t need to sit down now with the stretch starting now. The last couple of games could be like the East playoffs. I’m not going to sit out. I care about this team. The coaching staff. I’m not going to let them down. I’m going to keep fighting. It’s tough because I feel the coaching staff has been geat. Vinny talks to me all the time, pushes me, tells me no letdown. That’s the way players get better. It’s a tough stretch but we’ll keep fighting.”
The Bulls did Friday, though they fell behind 54-46 at halftime despite some strong moves from Johnson, who also drew the unenviable job of defending James. Though James did back off some early to let his teammates get going.
“I was trying to make him a shooter,” said Johnson. “Trying not to let him drive anywhere he wanted to. But if we give the same effort we did tonight we’re going to win.”
The Bulls had perhaps the best defensive stretch in this 10-game losing run in the third quarter, though James had one of those highlight come-from-behind blocks against a fast breaking Hinrich. Johnson had one as well in the fourth in addition to a beauty of a reverse layup on the run and slam dunk as the Bulls got within 69-65 after three.
But in the euphoria of a close game, Johnson got caught up in trying to go against James with one-on-one moves after James’ scores in the fourth. Thus the turnovers.
“That was not the plan,” said Del Negro.  “It’s not the way you want to go about that.  I thought a couple of times our ball movement got a little stagnant.  You have to have good ball movement.  When it came down to it we turned the ball over too many times and we did not make them pay for their close-outs. James has to control his turnovers.  Those are the things we have to work through.  From a positive standpoint, it is giving them an opportunity to learn.”
But did we learn anything about LeBron and his plans?
“I’m here,” James said in deferring a cloying query about would be please join the Bulls. “They can see me until I catch the plane.”

Bulls make soft comeback again in 9th straight loss

So I’m hearing now despite the Bulls losing again, 113-106 to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday, that there were a lot of positive signs.
Like Acie Law with 22 points on just eight field goal attempts as he got to the line with seven free throws. Like James Johnson back in the starting lineup and running the wing aggressively for 11 points and several dunks. Like Hakim Warrick off the bench for 13 points and the Bulls again fighting back with a big fourth quarter to get within striking distance of a win with plenty of time left in the game.
Nonsense! The Bulls once again in losing their ninth straight were uncompetitive and had the opponents effectively laughing at them. They gagged as soon as the game became relatively close and for the second straight game fell behind by 25 points.
And not exactly to the ’96 Bulls or ’86 Celtics.
This was a Mavs team blown out by the Knicks at home in their last game. The Grizzlies, who wrecked the Bulls Tuesday, aren’t even a playoff team and lost badly Wednesday to another non playoff team, Houston.
The Mavs didn’t even play Jason Kidd in the fourth quarter.
Yes, yes, I know. The Bulls remain without Derrick Rose, who’ll probably be back against Cleveland Friday from a sprained wrist, Joakim Noah, who should be back Saturday in Philadelphia, though for limited minutes with his plantar fasciitis, and Luol Deng, who’s calf injury doesn’t seem to be improving and isn’t expected back this week. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro Wednesday said Deng suffered a setback trying to run these last few days.
Still, I recall the Bulls going into Golden State and playing a bunch of D-leaguers and losing.
It’s not that difficult. You aren’t looking at Oscar, Bird, Wilt, Michael and Malone out there.
The Bulls got their butts kicked down the stretch when it mattered by J.J. Barea, with Rodrique Beaubois the two midget Mavs combining for 26 for the game on 10 of 14 shooting.
But Barea did kick butt in the D-league a few years back.
Think they’ll be playing much when the Mavs play the Lakers or Nuggets or Spurs?
Del Negro wasn’t fooled. I give him credit. He’s not being conned by these faux comebacks. It’s easy to play after you are behind by 25. There’s no pressure, and no one expects anything of you, including the opposition. There aren’t any more Jordans. They don’t try to kill you anymore when you are losing. Otherwise, how could they hug like all the players do these days after games? C’mon, at least pretend you’re upset when you lose.
Someone tried to throw Del Negro a softball question in the postgame about Law playing well, and Vinny was having none of it.
Good for him. It would be easy in classic Cubs-fans-in-September fashion to look at the kids and say how bright the future could be and what depth we’ll have. But Vinny knows. He knows you can compete with all the first round picks and NBA players the Bulls have on the roster without Rose, Deng and Noah. If they wanted to. Vinny hasn’t seen that they have.
Asked if his play will earn Law more time, Del Negro veered off.
“Everyone has got to improve,” he said. “I never really worry about guys’ offensive tools. I think Acie has proven that he can get to the basket and do some things. But we’ve got to tighten up some things defensively. That’s how we won early in the season. We can’t control the paint and we’re not controlling penetration as well as we’d like.”
In other words, don’t stand there admiring shooters, as Law and Warrick and several of the new and young guys did. Warrick was active offensively down the stretch, but he had one rebound. C’mon, you’re 6-9. You ought to get hit in the head by at least one rebound without even trying.
You know the old saying, “Nice game, you got one more rebound than a dead man.”
This is the Mavs, after all, not exactly your lock down defensive team.
They call him Irk Nowitzki. You know, no D.
“It (defense) was a little bit better in both games in the second half,” said Del Negro, shrugging about an observation regarding the second straight second half comeback from 25 behind. “It wasn’t anything anyone’s real pleased about. We should be able to play a little bit better defensively, I feel. When we’ve gotten into people and more aggressive.”
Which the Bulls weren’t much once again.
Kirk Hinrich was back from his one game suspension, and while he doesn’t look as flashy as Law driving to the basket and scoring, he, at least, was trying to get up on defense, pressure and compete. And then when he looked around he was alone. The frustration boiled over once again as the Bulls were headed to giving up at least 100 points for the 12th straight game.
Nowitzki gave Hinrich a push going for a loose ball with about two minutes remaining and the Bulls trailing by 10. Hinrich retaliated with an elbow to Nowitzki’s. Big, bad Kirk. But, hey, at least someone showed some fight. It’s why I would have put Joe Alexander in as he’s bolted to the bench even with all the injuries. I recalled against the Hawks toward the beginning of this month of blowouts, he was in for some garbage time and threw a nice cross body block chasing a loose ball. When everyone hid when Dwight Howard ko’d Rose again, Alexander came in late and committed four fouls. I don’t know his skill level, but he seems to want to compete.
I’m afraid I haven’t seen much of that of late.
Doesn’t anyone get tired of being beaten and beat up every game?
Taj Gibson, after a poor effort against Memphis as he fights his plantar fasciitis, came out with a strong move to the basket and followup slam. But the Bulls were shockingly indifferent in allowing Mavs shooters open look after open look. The Mavs shot almost 70 percent in the first quarter to lead 32-20. The Mavs pushed the ball in transition whenever they could and pulled up for open shots. It was almost like the state three-point shooting contest in Illinois this week, which includes some familiar names like James Stack, the son of former Bulls executive Jim, making his second consecutive appearance, and Charlie Morrissey, son of my former newspaper colleague, Rick Morrissey.
They’ll be guarded in the contest about like the Bulls were defending the Mavs shooters Wednesday, at least through three quarters.
It got worse in the second quarter as the Bulls were so soft I thought I saw some tissue paper company executives trying to sign up some of the players for endorsement deals.
“This tissue is so soft you can use it to guard Mavs and Grizzlies players like we do.”
The Mavs laughed their way to a 60-35 lead after a Barea three as I swore I saw someone signal to the Bulls bench for a camera so they could get a good, close up shot of him shooting.
“In the first half we gave up a lot of fast break points,” noticed Hinrich, trying to be diplomatic.
Asked generally how the team could improve, he said: “Well, defensively.”
“I don’t know they finished up the game with but in the first half they were shooting a very high percentage (just 65.8 percent). I’m assuming they finished the game that way,” said Hinrich, though the Mavs eased off considerably and ended at 52 percent. “We’ve got to dig in on defense. We’re shorthanded. Everybody’s got to step up.”
The Mavs led 64-44 at halftime, and you could almost hear Bulls players proudly thinking they’re not as bad as the Timberwolves, who gave up 152 on Tuesday. The Bulls attempted four free throws in the first half. So what do you think they were doing other than admiring their long jumpers?
The Mavs kept the lead around 20 most of the third quarter until Law ended the third with a three to bring the Bulls within 88-72.
And here come the Bulls!
Hello, as Norm used to say, “Give me 48 minutes.”
Not 12!
The Bulls have become pretty impressive 12-minute men of late and they scored on 11 of their first 12 possessions of the fourth quarter.
Chris Richard, who does try despite his limitations, got a dunk on a Warrick pass and a nice follow. He had a team high nine rebounds in just 14 minutes. Law has strong moves to the basket and spun by Barea for a drive and three point play. He’s never really gotten a chance to play behind Mike Bibby in Atlanta and with guard oriented teams in Charlotte and Golden State. But he’s not really a point guard as he doesn’t pass much. He’s a good scorer, but also kept going way under screens against Barea, who lit up the Bulls for 10 fourth quarter points on four of five shooting with a pair of threes.
“JJ really stepped up big in the fourth quarter and saved us,” said Nowitzki, who had 26 while Caron Butler added 27 with 14 of 16 from the line. “He made some big shots, two big three’s, two pull up jumpers behind the screens because they left him open and he really used the screen and knocked some shots down.”
The guy’s about 5-10 and 170 pounds. You can’t guard that guy? But, yeah, he did kill at Northeastern. Oh, that’s right. He averaged 7.2 as a senior.
Warrick had a pretty baseline slam dunk and Law a nice baseline drive where he used his body to hold off the defense and scored. He does have talent. That got the Bulls within 98-90 with 6:30 left. Game on, eh?
Nowitzki missed, but Johnson then ran down out of control and lost the ball with a chance to get to six.
Law then got a nice view of a Barea jumper from about six feet away without even trying to get to him as Dallas went back up by 10. It was hardly only Law, and I know he’s not used to playing this much, and they wouldn’t have been close without him and it’s not like Rose is Michael Cooper. But at least make the effort.
Brad Miller got it back to seven with a three point play and Jason Terry missed a jumper. It’s 100-93 with 5:34 left.
You know what’s coming. Hinrich handed off to Johnson, who decided to make a side to side move and traveled. Ooops, turnover again.
Barea then got a three over Hinrich. Murray missed a three, but Hinrich stole a pass the other way and pitched ahead to Murray, who threw the ball away, the third turnover in the last five Bulls possessions once they got within seven. And then Barea did beat them to the basket with a finger roll after Shawn Marion got an offensive rebound for a 105-93 lead. Hinrich then committed an offensive foul on a ridiculous Barea flop. I loved Barea trying to take the ball from Hinrich after the call and Hinrich slapping his arm away.
He’s Bad Bad Kirk, meaner than a junk yard dog.
Barea then stepped back over the three point line with Law again six feet from him and dropped in a three to make it 108-93 with 3:36 left. Make it 10 straight points for J.J. Barea, superstar.
So when Dallas had to play, they basically sent anyone out to beat the Bulls.
That left the Bulls at 31-36 and with Toronto and Charlotte winning, the Bulls fell two and a half games out of eighth (with Toronto having the tiebreaker) and three games behind in the loss column. That’s pretty far behind. You began to wonder with the Clippers winning whether the Bulls now were better off losing all their games to fall behind the Clippers for the 10th worst record.
That way they wouldn’t have to swap picks with the Bucks. Though the Clippers are six back, and the Bulls are not out of it, especially with Rose and Noah returning. But that swap of picks seems almost certain as the Bulls have the 11th worst record now and could hardly fall behind the Clippers without completely dumping the rest of the schedule. Which we really don’t want to see. The Bulls ought to be able to compete even despite the injuries, and you have to hope for much better than we’ve seen lately.
It’s up to them.

Bulls defenseless again in loss to Jazz

There’s a famous story from the 1998 playoffs I was reminded of watching the Bulls submit and lose to the Utah Jazz Tuesday, 132-108, the team’s fifth consecutive loss in falling to ninth place and, at least for now, out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The Lakers were trailing 3-0 in the Western Conference finals and just finished up what everyone knew was their final practice of the season before Game 4. Players usually gather at the end of practice for some sort of unity exclamation. The Lakers was, “One, two, three, win.”
So the team huddled and all stretched their arms in and in unison began, “One, two, three…” when Nick Van Exel quickly added, “Cancun.”
Yes, the season was over and it was time for the beach.
And while the Bulls have 19 games remaining and are just a half game out of seventh at 31-32, they clearly are playing the poorest of all the bottom contenders for a playoff spot and are facing even more injuries with Luol Deng scheduled for an MRI Wednesday morning for a calf strain he suffered against the Jazz.
It’s looking like an early vacation.
Deng is not likely to make the road trip to Orlando and Miami this week. Taj Gibson, according to coach Vinny Del Negro, had a flareup of his plantar fasciitis in his poorest game of the season with zero points and one rebound in fouling out in 13 minutes.
Plus, the Bulls, who recently had worked up to No. 1 in opponents field goal percentage, the league’s key defensive barometer, gave up better than 52 percent shooting for the third consecutive game and now have given up at least 100 points in the last eight games and an average of 115 per game in the current five game losing streak.
Mike D’Antoni and Paul Westhead would be proud.
“We don’t (have answers),” said a somber Del Negro after the game. “We can’t control the paint right now. We didn’t have any answers for them defensively.
“We emphasize defense all the time,” said Del Negro. “It’s not like it’s a one game thing here. Before the injuries (Noah out three weeks with plantar fasciitis), we led the league in field goal (defensive) percentage. We were all on the same page and working. The trade deadline came, we incorporate a few new players….Joakim being out is a big factor. There have been some injuries to deal with, Luol’s knee. We had a few days of practice, but most guys were on the sideline trying to heal up.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” said Del Negro. “There’s no question we’ve won this season by holding teams to a low field goal percentage and controlling tempo better. We’ve proven when we try to outscore teams, the way we’re made up now we haven’t had much success. We have to reevaluate. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. Hopefully, we’ll play much better and get guys healthy. Now we have to try to weather the storm, stay confident, stay together and keep working.”
No, it’s not time to give up . The Bulls have two games left with Charlotte, two with the Nets and games with the Wizards, Bucks, Raptors and Pistons. There are wins to get, at least once the Bulls get through this stretch with the road trip to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas and then Cleveland at home.
Say they lose them all, which seems likely the way they are going now, and fall to 31-37? Over? No. But they’d probably need a strong close to nine or 10 of the next 14. So, yes, it would be tough. Because the teams ahead of them like Charlotte, Miami and Milwaukee, all were involved in tense, low scoring playoff type games Tuesday. And Toronto got beat at the buzzer in L.A. by a Kobe Bryant shot.
The Bulls gave up a season high 132 points.
It’s not only what you are doing, but how you are doing it. And right now this Bulls team has lost its edge. No, I wouldn’t say they’ve given up. But you get the sense watching and being around them they are closing in on accepting their fate.
“It seems like we’ve gone away from what’s been successful for us,” said Kirk Hinrich. “We’re scoring the ball at a high rate (averaging 112 the last two games), but we’re having a hard time getting stops right now.”
The obvious answer is the lack of size and length and athleticism at the rim with Noah out, Tyrus Thomas traded and Gibson now slowing with injury as well. The Jazz, 41-22 and in the Western Conference race, have been a high scoring team this season and always run an offense that produces a lot of layups and inside scores.
But they also hit a dozen threes, half by reserve C.J. Miles, as the Bulls concentrate on shutting down the paint in their defense.
“I’d rather have them taking contested jump shots instead of points in the paint on layups,” said Del Negro. “But tonight they got them both.”
It’s also a delicate point for Del Negro, though he alluded to it: The team made deals to insure it’s position this summer in free agency, moves they had to make in case they’d have a shot at star players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer.
But in doing so—and with the injury to Noah—the roster which had become defensive oriented with speed and size and was working well together with continuity, which is the key to team defense, changed drastically. Coaches aren’t supposed to say they’ve got to have the players, and that wouldn’t exactly endear Del Negro with management.
But it may be too late to change.
Derrick Rose got a lot of the blame for those Miles threes. Rose was brilliant on offense with a memorable duel with the Jazz’ Deron Williams. But you could see Rose trying to adhere to the team’s defensive principles to close the paint and form that defensive shell inside. It just so happened Miles was hot with four threes in the fourth and one late in the third when the Jazz broke from a close game.
So Rose has to react to the hot shooter. Or someone has to tell him to forget the inside help and get that guy! Apparently, he didn’t and no one did.
But the Bulls hardly lost because of that, and, as usual, they’d have been nowhere near competing without another brilliant game from Rose, who had 25 points and a career equaling 13 assists. The Bulls were no slouches, shooting 52.9 percent for the game, which was just about what they Jazz shot, and the Bulls shot 62.5 percent in the first half.
The Bulls still trailed at the time 63-61, which was the disturbing news, but it also showed that Rose can be a high assist player if teammates make shots, as well as a high scorer.
“Rose played a great game and put pressure on us all night,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. “I like to see guys compete out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or in a game. Tonight those guys (Rose and Williams, the latter with 28 points and 17 assists and both with double/doubles by halftime) competed hard the whole game. With Deron, we’re fortunate that here we have had two great point guards (with John Stockton). He knows how to play the game. It’s really pretty simple. The game needs to be played with other people involved. He knows that and does a great job with his teammates.”
Williams was terrific, and he got the highlight play on a two-on-one break with Rose retreating with the Jazz ahead 81-77 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
It was a game.
But Paul Millsap got the ball from Deng in a turnover, who soon went out for the game, and Williams got a pass from Wesley Matthews and dunked in the face of Rose.
I don’t know if it was a collective shock among Bulls players to see Rose be victimized by one of those dunks. But the Bulls were outscored 11-4 to end the third, and them after pulling within 92-87 early in the fourth with an active group of reserves pressuring, the Jazz outscored the Bulls 20-12 with Miles hitting a trio of three pointers and pulling away as Del Negro gave up and pulled the starters down by 14 with 3:26 remaining.
Though it isn’t any group I’d like to see in the game regularly—Jannero Pargo, Chris Richard, Hakim Warrick, James Jphnson and Flip Murray—the fivesome played the best defense of the game for the Bulls, pressing in the backcourt and causing a pair of Jazz turnovers to open the fourth and outscoring Utah 6-1 to get within 93-87 with 10:22 left.
But Del Negro, as he’s done of late, went back quickly to his starters, though no one but Rose really was much help after halftime. I actually thought Warrick finally was having an impact with his activity and even Richard was doing some nice things bothering Boozer and Johnson was active.
Sometimes you need to shake up the starters, who have played huge minutes this season, and go with a group that’s getting some things done. It didn’t happen, and when the regulars came back they made little impact and had no legs left as they were fouling and sending Jazz players to the line, getting beaten to loose balls and not getting out to Miles making those threes and ending with 26 points.
“We had a couple of opportunities,” said Del Negro. “But they got their hands on (balls) and got in the open court and made layups.”
There were a lot of layups in an another entertaining, high scoring, Phoenix Suns style game with the Bulls trailing 35-30 after one with both teams shooting over 60 percent and the Jazz ahead 63-61 at halftime and the Bulls shooting 62.5 percent and trailing.
The Bulls got a dozen from Deng in the first half and 15 from Brad Miller. But Rose was alone in the second half as no other starter had more than five. Rose added 15 in the second half with some stunning drives as Williams defended him and Rose on one occasion blew by Williams and beat both Paul Millsap and Matthews at the basket for a slick reverse layup and foul. That three point play got the Bulls within 113-102 with 5:19 left. But Kyle Korver answered with a three and as the Bulls scored on the next two possessions the Jazz scored on seven of he next eight.
You can’t catch up when they keep scoring.
The Jazz answered the Bulls early surrender with their bench players, who included D-league callup Othyus Jeffers, the U. of Illinois/Chicago product who had more than 100 family and friends at the game for his dream of playing in the NBA in the United Center.
Jeffers is from the West Side and came through the hard way having had two brothers shot to death. He also was shot in 2007 defending his sister. He went to Italy this season but came back to the D-league, where he starred last year, to get a chance at the NBA.
He earned it.
It also was a relatively quiet game for Carlos Boozer, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds and had seven of the Jazz’ 39 free throw attempts. He’s one of the so called second tier of free agents this summer, and though there have been questions about his health and commitment, he supposedly has talked about wanting to play in Chicago and would have looked good at power forward for the Bulls Tuesday. Before Boozer arrived, he told the Salt Lake Tribune the Bulls are “a good, young team that plays hard every night” and Rose is “something special, a stud.”
Rose was again Tuesday, but it hasn’t been nearly enough for the Bulls.
“When somebody scores like that, no defense,” agreed Rose. “They weren’t missing any shots either, so that didn’t help. When you lose a guy like (Noah), it’s always going to hurt the team. Some guys have come in and they are trying to pick up the slack. But there really can’t be any excuses in the NBA. (We have to) just come in and work on it. That’s really all you can do. Come in to practice, work on it and hope that it transfers to the game. We just have to find a way.”
Asked if the team’s confidence was shaken, Miller, who finished with 20, agreed.
“Obviously a little,” he said. “But you just have to keep your head up and know that there are a lot of games left to play. In this league you can win five games in a row just as quickly as you can lose five games in a row. We have to find a way to right this ship.”
Before someone brings up Micheal Ray Richardson, a famous maritime man in his own right, who once observed about his team, “The ship be sinkin.”
Not yet, but the Bulls are taking on lots of water.

Bulls and Rose suffer game most foul in loss to Grizzlies

OK, no more Mr. Nice Guy for Derrick Rose.
He tried. He thought being professional was the right way. He thought he’d be rewarded for showing respect, for revering the game, for appreciating authority, for simply not acting out like a brat.
So Rose attacked the defense and the basket over and over Thursday in the Bulls 105-96 come-from-ahead loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and got just two free throws on one possession despite 21 shots.
Enough is enough.
“I don’t know what I’ve got to do to get a call,” Rose offered in a rare bout of open post game frustration. “I don’t know if I’m being too physical or whatever. I’m just going to go in and start making them make the call. Go in and go crazy like some of those other players in the league and hopefully they call it.
“You’ll see,” Rose promised. “Definitely, next game.”
It would be too bad if it has to come to that, a kid who wants to do it right, not complain and stop playing and yell at the referees after every drive like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. But this seems to be what the NBA always will be. The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Sadly.
It’s not fully why the Bulls blew a 17-point second quarter lead and 10-point lead in the third to inexplicably lose to a Memphis team playing the second of a back to back while the Bulls had two off days.
The Bulls were pounded on the boards again, 46-31, with Joakim Noah out probably through the end of the month with plantar fasciitis. There were too many quick jump shots in a 38 percent shooting second half even with Memphis over the foul limit early, and a failure to go for a knockout punch when the Grizzlies seemed disinterested and looking for a quick trip home with a lackluster effort in the first 18 minutes.
Rose finished with 20 points and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 23 points on sharp nine of 16 shooting and showing few ill effects of his knee problems that kept him out of the Monday loss to Atlanta.
But without Noah and with new acquisitions Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray a combined two for 10 for 10 points and not adding much of late, the Bulls margin for error is slight without Noah.
So they need all they can get from Rose, and Rose tried desperately to give it all he could, including an angry looking one handed slam dunk over Zach Randolph on a Brad Miller bounce pass early in the third quarter.
It seemed as much crowd pleasing highlight as Rose statement of frustration over being battered around by a wall of collapsing double and triple teams every time he went to the basket and left to watch he and the ball bounce away.
It’s too bad because even commissioner David Stern has urged players to stop complaining so much about not getting foul calls, and then when someone does the referees seem to ignore him.
“We’ve just got to find a way to end games,” said Rose of the Bulls again blowing a big lead at home. “When we have a team down we have to come out and find a way to put them away. We really want to be in the playoffs. But it’s up to us. Not anybody else. We have to go out there and show how much we want it.”
At this point most observers would say they don’t seem to want it very much.
It was the Bulls third straight loss to fall to 31-30. It’s way more than that. They aren’t playing so much poorly as indifferently, though more in stretches than the entire game. They’ll have great runs, but then settle for jumpers and a lack of body or ball movement.
It also too often seems a funereal atmosphere among the players, little emotion except for several whom seem comfortable with one foot out the door.
“I believe we could have played a lot harder,” said Deng. “It’s not time to panic. We’ve got 21 games left. We’ve got to play with more energy. Early in the game, we did a good job of running out. But we let them back in the game and kept building their confidence. And then with six minutes left or so they made plays and we didn’t.
“I know we did not make shots,” said Deng. “I thought we could have moved the ball better (17 assists). “They had two big plays, and ones (by Marc Gasol) to go up seven (with 3:50 left) and spread out a little. I believe we’ve got a very good team. We just can’t act like we’re a good team. That’s what we did tonight, kind of played like we were better than them.”
This is hardly a roster for overconfidence, even with the nice post All Star game stretch, which was populated more by teams with losing records.
It also didn’t help that it seemed coach Vinny Del Negro also pulled his foot off the pedal along with his players.
The Grizzlies appeared to be going through the motions after an exciting win in New Orleans Wednesday night to move into ninth in the West.
So the Bulls came out flying, moving the ball, outrebounding Memphis 12-9 in the first quarter and shooting 59 percent behind Rose’s 10 points. They led 27-10 when the Bulls started major substitutions, Jannero Pargo for Rose, Warrick for Miller and Murray for Hinrich.
The Bulls still led 32-19 after one, and even with some moves deeper into the bench to open the second quarter, Memphis still seemed disinterested and the Bulls led 49-32 with about five minutes left in the first half.
The Bulls then went with Chris Richard and Warrick again for Taj Gibson, and yes the starters need rest. They cannot play 48. But you just had the feel with this kind of game one more first half spurt and the Grizzlies would have packed it in.
But the Grizzlies got some life to end the second quarter with Gasol and Zach Randolph, who ended with 31 points and 18 rebounds, scoring inside while the Bulls went scoreless on seven straight possessions with three long jumpers and three unforced turnovers.
No sweat, we’ll get ‘em when we need to seemed the attitude.
That enabled the Grizzlies to go to halftime trailing just 51-45 in a game they should have been down 25.
“We are an uptempo, jump shooting team,” agreed Del Negro. “We don’t have a lot of post up guys. When you settle for jump shots, they are going to go in some time and out. You have to guard very well and get up and down the court to get some easy baskets. It makes it hard to control tempo sometimes because if we slow it down without a post up game, we end up running a lot of pick and rolls and isolations with Derrick. We got a little stagnant.”
The Bulls seemed to grab hold of the game again to open the third with that great Rose dunk and Miller, who had 14 points and seven rebounds, with a terrific sequence including a nice cut for a score on a Hinrich pass, a baseline drive and finger roll and then a dunk followed by a gangly arm movement and primal scream (yes, Miller was into it) off another Hinrich feed. The big guy was warmed up.
The Bulls were back ahead 65-55 with 7:10 left in the third, and again I thought they had a chance to make the Grizzlies quit as Memphis went to backup center Hamed Haddadi and already had four team fouls in the quarter. I thought Miller could have head faked Haddadi into a bunch more and spread out the game.
Again, guys like Miller need rest, especially with Noah out. But this seemed one of the more winnable games in this tough March stretch of winning teams for the first three weeks. So you push to get the ones you can without Noah? But Del Negro likes to rest his starters when the opponent goes to the bench, and he took out Miller and Hinrich.
And this is one of those debates you perhaps only make in a loss. A coach gets blamed for playing the starters too much, which has happened this season. So then how can you blame him for playing the starters too little? I don’t. It’s a job open to ultimate second guessing. I don’t fault Del Negro for the loss. Players have to make the plays, and the Bulls are short on those players now. They will need some extraordinary individual efforts this last quarter of the season to make the playoffs. Which may be why Rose has begun his campaign with the officials.
I tend to be more conservative, perhaps like Del Negro, and I like to try to steal as many wins as I can to see if I can hold on down the stretch.
But they always say that’s inexperience and a veteran coach knows how to massage his bench to save the starters. So Del Negro did try that Thursday.
It just didn’t work this time.
Memphis went on a 10-0 run to tie the game as Randolph was just too strong for Warrick, who is more a combo three/four.
“The rebounding and the loose balls, I think, made the difference,” said Del Negro. “Our initial defense was decent. The extra possessions really hurt us. As they got more offensive rebounds, they were making us pay for that. We can’t expect to win when we are giving up 53 percent shooting, that many offensive rebounds and letting them score 60 points in the second half. We were not sharp defensively. We are going to win by defending. We are not going to outscore anyone with the make up of our team right now.”
The Bulls did regain the lead on some hustle plays by Deng that led to free throws and a couple of nice defensive plays by Gibson along with a Deng three. So the Bulls clung to an 80-76 lead after three.
“You have to want it more than the other guy,” said Del Negro pointedly. “We did not put enough pressure on them defensively. They came back after we had a big lead and I’m sure they went into the half feeling confident. When the game got close, they went to Zach and we could not control him.”
Hinrich scored on a drive to open the fourth, twisting his ankle for the first of two times in the quarter, though he said after the game he should be OK for Saturday’s game against Dallas.
But the Bulls had awakened the sleeping giants of the Grizzlies front court and they began to batter the Bulls with drives (a 62-42 points in the paint margin), offensive rebounds, loose balls with the guards flying into the mix and second shots.
Memphis finally took its first lead since early in the game on a Mike Conley floater after an O.J. Mayo rebound at 89-87 with 6:54 left. Mayo finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive, while free agent to be Rudy Gay had 17 points, six rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
The Memphis bench isn’t very good, though the Bulls couldn’t take much advantage with their bench five of 16 overall. But Memphis’ starting lineup is far superior to the Bulls’, and this was arguably the weakest team in this three week stretch.
The Bulls got the lead back at 90-89 with 5:29 left on a Hinrich three. But then when Hinrich missed a three on the next possession, Gasol scored on the first of two screen/rolls with Conley in which he successfully sealed off Miller and the Grizzlies pulled away as Bulls errant jumpers shot off the rim in all directions.
“It hurt,” said Hinrich. “We were getting hurt on the boards. At home we’ve had leads and let our guard down. We can’t do that.”
The Bulls top guard, Rose, was down numerous times. But he wasn’t rewarded for the effort. He had three assists, and I counted at least five passes he made out of deep penetration to shooters who missed with no one within five feet of them.
It only gets more difficult from here, so we’ll see how much this Bulls teams has and how much they want or can produce a longer season. So far it doesn’t look promising.

Bulls bring back Richard and release Hunter

They were proud of him from little Utica in southwestern Mississippi, in high school in Jackson and then starring at Jackson State.
Lindsey Hunter became a star at the school that produced Chicago Bears great Walter Payton. He averaged 24 points at Jackson State after transferring from Alcorn State and led Jackson State to a classic overtime victory in the NIT to powerful Connecticut when he scored 34 points in the second half. He then impressed the NBA scouts with his tenacity at the predraft camp and shot up in the draft, eventually going to the Pistons at No. 10, where he was supposed to be the heir to Isiah Thomas’ point guard spot.
It didn’t work out quite that way, but it worked out beyond certainly Hunter’s dreams.
Hunter, 39, the NBA’s oldest player, was released by the Bulls Tuesday to make room for power forward Chris Richard. Richard, who was with the Bulls out of the D-League and training camp until the trading deadline deals, will help with the rebounding with Joakim Noah out with plantar fasciitis.
Luol Deng is expected back for Thursday’s game with Memphis. Deng, Noah, Derrick Rose, Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich all sat out practice Tuesday (why bother?) with injuries and the effects of the long season. It’s a pivotal stretch for the Bulls, given the high quality opponents the next three weeks and the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, which has the Bulls among five teams effectively competing for four spots with Toronto, Miami, Milwaukee and Charlotte.
The Bulls currently are in sixth, a half-game behind fifth place Toronto, but just two games ahead of ninth place Charlotte. The Bulls appear to have the toughest remaining schedule with 14 games left against teams with winning records. Milwaukee has 13, Charlotte 12, and Miami and Toronto 10 each. Miami plays its last eight games against teams with losing records.
As for Hunter, he had just rejoined the team Monday after a personal leave to attend to an ill relative. He’s played in just 13 games and 122 minutes and averaged one point. But he was a popular mentor for the younger players.
And in his 17th season in the NBA, Hunter has thus far had a longer NBA playing career than Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, John Havlicek, Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and his first mentor, Thomas.
Hunter still has to clear waivers and could be picked up by another team as he was contacted last summer by several teams. He has talked this season in various interviews about retiring, though nothing is certain. If he does decide to retire, he’ll likely move into player development with the Bulls.
“It’s the love of the game,” Hunter said when I asked him recently about staying around so long. “I really love basketball. I’ve never imagined it would last so long. I’m grateful. I’ve always tried to give back to the game by helping the young players. I’ve been blessed.”
Hunter’s is an inspirational story because he shouldn’t necessarily have had this long a career. He really wasn’t a true point guard and was too small at maybe 6-2 to be a long term shooting guard. But he always kept in great shape, worked hard and became one of the best defensive guards in the league and a reliable three point shooters. It enabled him to become a solid contributor for NBA championship teams with the Lakers and Pistons and play in 147 playoff games. That’s in the top 30 alltime in the NBA of playoff games played.
Not bad for a little guy.
“He’s always been one of the best on the ball defenders in the NBA, something not appreciated enough,” said TNT broadcaster Doug Collins, who coached Hunter late in Hunter’s first stint in Detroit. “I always felt we’d have a good defensive team and it all started with Lindsey the way he guarded the ball. He gave us a chance to be a good team. He was always one of the best conditioned athletes and one of those guys that made you a unique group. He understood what it was to be a leader and was tough. To watch him go at it with some of the best scoring guards was a treat. He knew about winning above all else. He was a big reason of why we could have a team that went from 28 to 54 wins in two seasons.”
Hunter joined the original Bad Boys with Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. He came in with Allan Houston and the next season Grant Hill joined. He and Houston and became a two pronged shooting backcourt with Hill playing point forward on offense and Hunter defending the opposition’s best guard scorer.
Hunter went to Milwaukee and then played with the 2002 champion Lakers before returning to play a key bench role for the 2004 champion Pistons, who defeated the Lakers who included Karl Malone and Gary Payton. He joined the Bulls when Hinrich was injured last season and become an emergency replacement and quasi-coach.
He’s scored almost 8,000 points in his career, prevented likely twice as many, and hit more than 1,000 threes. If he is closing in on the finale, it’s been a heck of a run. Congratulations, Lindsey.